April 29, 2013

Getting the grades

Students at juvenile detention facility have high graduation rate

by Caitlin Huston

INDIANAPOLIS — Walking up to the microphone with his General Educational Development certificate in hand, a 17-year-old student could finally find a positive in his incarceration.

“I’m a graduate,” the boy said.

The Logansport Juvenile Detention Facility saw a class of 15 students graduate with GEDs Friday in one of the many classes the facility graduates each year. Richard Richardson, principal at the facility’s school, said the facility boasts a high GED graduation rate because of the students’ drive and the individualized attention.

For the past three years, the facility has hosted about five to six graduations a year and seen 120 to 140 students graduate each year with GEDs, Richardson said.

That puts the facility’s graduation rate as the highest in the county except for Logansport High School, according to Richardson.

The GED is offered to anyone in the facility 16 and older, but the 16 and 17-year-olds have to get a parent’s consent while older students have to sign up to take the test, Richardson said.

Though it’s somewhat voluntary, Richardson said, the teachers and counselors in the facility urge students to get the certificate.

“It’s a strongly encouraged process,” Richardson said.

Judy Willis, who has worked for 17 1/2 years as an English teacher at facility, said she believes the individual attention the students receive as well as the all-around educational support from everyone in the facility helps with the GED progress.

“They get more individual help,” Willis said.

For 16-year-old Tommy, the more disciplined classroom helped him get away from the peer distractions he used to have.

“That was probably my biggest problem in high school,” Tommy said.

Richardson said many students, like Tommy, already have high school credits, but need the different classroom setting to really absorb what they’ve learned.

Willis said many of the students also initially struggle with essay writing as they start preparing for the GED.

“That seems to be a huge gap,” Willis said.

However, Willis said many students do enjoy writing poetry and reading in their free time.

Richardson said many students are also driven to get their degree because they have a goal of eventually finding a career.

“A lot of these young men feel this is their last chance,” Richardson said.

Travis, a student at the facility, said he wanted to get his GED so that he could eventually become a registered nurse.

“I think I’m going to move forward,” Travis said.

His mother Colleen said she’s also noticed the amount of time and dedication Travis has put into the certification.

“I’m proud. Very, very proud,” Colleen said. “He’s gone a long way.”

Richardson said the facility also provides the students with business cards and helps them create a resume as they leave the facility.

When he gets out of the facility in August, Tommy said he plans to enroll in Ivy Tech with the goal of working in medicine or furthering his passion for chemistry.

“I’m going to start right away,” Tommy said.

Caitlin Huston is a staff reporter of the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5148 or

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